Ridgeland crowd takes wholesaler and developer to task
By JACK WEATHERLY
Under intense questioning for two hours Thursday night from a skeptical crowd of several hundred at the Ridgeland High School auditorium, a Costco representative conceded that it was not committed to a site on Highland Colony Parkway.
“This is not a done deal,” said Dan Venable.
The audience of area residents questioned – and often lectured – Andrew Mattiace, the developer, and Costco representatives about the potential impact of the upscale discounter as the anchor for the 43-acre site targeted to be the third phase of the Renaissance at Colony Park village mall.
One point of concern was a change to a zoning code that governed the property.
Steve Maloney said that his research shows that the public notice of a June 2 zoning change by the Board Aldermen was obscure and the language of the zoning change itself was complex and baffling.
He asked the Costco representatives whether they had in fact written the zoning change.
No, said Jeff Ishida, vice president of real estate development for Costco.
Mattiace said that Phase III of Renaissance “will feel and react and operate and look just like Phase I.” Phase II, just north of the first phase, is to be built simultaneously with Phase III.
Yet Mattiace said in response to a question that the zoning change would allow “fast-casual” and drive-through eateries along the Highland Colony Parkway.
Mayor Gene McGee, who was not a participant in the meeting, had said until recently that plans for Costco were merely a rumor. But under unrelenting pressure from the public, he revealed that plans were afoot to bring in Costco.
He said that confidentiality was essential during early talks so that Costco competitors and other communities would not know and gain advantage.
He said he got permission from the developer, Mattiace Properties of Jackson, and Costco to reveal that talks were underway.
Nevertheless, Bill May, another resident, said the government was guilty of “lying and deceit.”
Delores Holmes said she felt like she was “doing business with the Devil.”
The meeting was presided over by Rev. David Hale, pastor of Christ Life Church of the Highlands, which is south of the site on the parkway.
Matt Chase said: “Some of these people don’t want your store in the city at all.”
Mattiace said that he had applied to the Mississippi Development Authority for $26 million in sales tax incentives, and added that the developed property would yield $400,000 a year in property taxes for schools, the county and the city.
Mattiace said it is true that the city will not receive any sales tax revenue until 30 percent of the capital expenditure of $90 million to $100 million is spent by the developer, or 15 years, whichever comes first, but that the city is not financially obligated.
A man who said he lives in Pearl and he is a fan of Costco and if Ridgeland didn’t want the store, Pearl would take it.
At one point, someone shouted to the representatives of Costco: “Go to Pearl!”
Company representatives said that of the half-dozen sites that it had been looked at in Ridgeland the one under scrutiny was “ground zero.”
Yet the crowd pushed for it to look hard at other sites in Ridgeland.
Other issues raised were increased traffic and public safety, especially for children and cyclists.
Jonathan Kiser, an engineer hired for the project, said that traffic studies were just getting underway because it was necessary to wait till school resumed to get the best reading.
Andrew Mattiace said that safe crossings were part of the plan.
Load limits was another issue, but Ishida said he was aware of the limits and also the company typically brings in inventory between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. and noted that it is not a 24-hour operation.
Typically, there are 10 to 12 trucks a day and of those one to four are semis, Ishida said.
It will have a gas station, which will be run by specialists and will not do oil changes and minor auto repairs, he added.
Ishida made a power-point presentation to show the upscale crowd that Costco is an upscale discounter, saying that it is the largest seller of wine in the nation. It has surpassed Whole Foods as the largest seller of organic produce, is a major seller of prime beef and seafood and carries quality diamonds as well as designer jeans for less than they might cost elsewhere.